Lake Louisa State Park, on edge of Green Swamp, is wild yet close to Orlando
Lake Louisa State Park is so close to the Orlando theme parks that some nights you can hear the fireworks.
Yet once you are inside its landscape of rolling sand hills, lush cypress swamps and miles of pine forests dotted with lakes, the world of cars and commerce feels remote.
Lake Louisa is a serene place especially appealing to hikers and bicyclists. But because of its outstanding cabins, the options for kayaking and horseback-riding and its small sandy beach, its appeal extends beyond that group.
One reason Lake Louisa feels wild and remote is because it is part of the vast Green Swamp. More than 100,000 acres of Green Swamp, located between Orlando and the Gulf, has been preserved as public land because it is a critical recharge area for the Floridian aquifer as well as the source of the Hillsborough, Withlacoochee, Ocklawaha, and Peace rivers.
The park was developed in the early 1970s from land that had been homesteads, citrus groves and cattle ranch lands.
Hiking and biking in Lake Louisa State Park
Lake Louisa State Park is perfect for hikers and bikers because there are more than 20 miles of trails that are also used by mountain bikes and equestrians.
There are also seven miles of paved roads with minimal traffic, and we saw many road bicyclists using them. (You can rent bikes at the camp store in the campground.)
We loved the variety of trails available in the park.
Some trails climbed sandy hills and led to small round lakes with lily pads. Others went through beautiful cypress swamps.
We particularly enjoyed the trails that went through old citrus groves. On our February visit, the forest was decorated with brilliant orange fruit and we picked some tasty tangerines as a trail snack. Some of the trees had reverted to their root stock, the sour orange – and, boy, is that name accurate.
(If you’re interested in hiking in former citrus groves, take the trails around Hammond Lake and in the southeast corner of the park.)
On a foggy morning, the hiking trails along the centrally located Big Creek were magical, with Spanish moss hanging from live oak trees and a half-dozen deer leaping through the woods.
There are so many intriguing trails that we spent two days hiking and still had places we wish we had had a chance to explore.
Other activities in Lake Louisa State Park
The largest of a half dozen lakes in the park, Lake Louisa, is lined with picturesque cypress trees. It has a small beach with dark orange tannic water and very white sand. We saw people swimming at the beach, apparently not put off by the sign that warned about the potential for alligators. There are no life guards. There is a bath house, rest rooms, picnic tables and a playground at the beach area, making it an appealing place to set up for the day.
One of the smaller lakes, Hammond Lake, is popular with kayakers, who can rent boats at the store in the campgrounds. Here are details.
You also can arrange horseback trail rides in the park, starting at $50 for one hour, via the camp store. Here’s information.
Cabins in Lake Louisa State Park
The cabins in Lake Louisa are terrific — among the best in Florida state parks, and we’ve stayed in most of them. Each of the 17 cabins is located on a hill overlooking Dixie Lake. Each has a huge screen porch, perfect for watching sunsets over the lake.
What is also exceptional is that they have two bathrooms, making them suited for two families or two couples or a gathering. Maximum capacity is six people, using a sofa bed in the living room. Cabins have heat and air conditioning and ceiling fans. (The gas fireplaces no longer can be used.)
Outside the cabins are fire pits with benches and a picnic table and a grill. (There’s also a picnic table in the screened porch.)
The cabins are well equipped with the exception of offering absolutely no toiletries. (Bring your own bar of soap, dish lotion and paper towels.) Be aware: Not a deal-breaker, but the beds aren’t great and the lack of fitted sheets will give you new appreciation for this bedding innovation.
But here’s a plus: Because there are 17 cabins, Lake Louisa is one of the easiest of the state parks in which to find a reservation, even during peak season. (With the extra plumbing, these cabins are bit more costly — $120 a night plus tax.
Camping at Lake Louisa State Park
There are 56 campsites, many suitable for large RVs, but they will be more attractive when the trees grow tall enough to provide shade and the vegetation grows to offer more privacy.
The campsites are spacious and beautifully situated between two lakes, with easy access to a fishing pier and hiking trails.
Lake Louisa State Park; official website
Clermont, FL 34714
What’s near Lake Louisa State Park
For bicyclists, the top place to suggest would be the Van Fleet State Trail which is only 25 minutes away. The Van Fleet State Trail is a paved rail trail that runs 29 miles through some of the most rural and undeveloped land you’ll find in Florida.
Also appealing for bicylists is a nearby historic town that is built around a bike trail. The West Orange Trail runs down the middle of main street in Winter Garden. Here’s more about visiting Winter Garden and staying in the Historic Edgewater Hotel, which caters to bicyclists.
These Florida Rambler stories cover other excellent places to hike, bike, camp, kayak and explore near the Van Fleet Rail.